Sunday, October 04, 2009

Strange Marketing Decisions (or, Why Do They Use the American Spelling of 'Donut')

Doughnuts, man. Blows my mind.

So here's the deal, no pun intended. I noticed this past week when I went into a Tim Hortons that its locations are now displaying gigantic hanging signs, proclaiming the amazing savings that we, the customers, can enjoy if we purchase a coffee and a doughnut together. This promotional blitz is also online, as you can see from the following example on their website front page--

--and I saw television spots for this combination hit Hockey Night in Canada this weekend, which has to be some of the most expensive advertising space you can buy in this country. They are not half-assing this campaign by any means; they are determined to have you know that a medium coffee and a doughnut currently retail for one Canadian dollar and ninety-nine Canadian cents (plus applicable taxes, they sheepishly append in a considerably smaller font).

So the first time that I was in line at a Tim Horton's and saw this promotion, I naturally thought to myself just the same thing you might think: a dollar ninety-nine, okay, what would it be normally? So I looked over the menu. A medium coffee by itself sells for a buck fifteen, and a single doughnut by itself commonly costs eighty-five cents. So let me run that through the ol' supercomputer, here, then copy and paste that into the text file, compare it against my original figures and AWW HEYYYYY WHAT

Yes, this exciting deal -- being marketed down our collective throats from coast to coast to coast -- appears at first glance to be a total savings of a single penny. Is this a real thing? I guess their campaign worked on me, because they got one sale out of it; the next time I was at a Tim Hortons I made a point of ordering a medium coffee and a doughnut, just to see what happened.

The woman at the counter rang up the coffee, at $1.15, and rang up the doughnut at $0.85. Then the most magical thing happened, after this two dollar subtotal incurred its five-per-cent General and seven-per-cent Provincial Sales Taxes. The cashier did some wizardry with her till, and I swear to Doug Flutie that the LCD display actually read the following to conclude the transaction:

TOTAL $2.24
TOTAL $2.23

"Do they seriously make you punch in the discount every time?" I asked her.

"Yep," she answered.

"Wow. Weak," I sympathized.

"Yep," she answered.

The store was pretty busy at the time -- of course it was busy, it was a daytime shift at a Tim Hortons -- so I let the conversation drop at that and made off with my, er, 'meal'. So I still have no answer for why the front-line staff have to manually key in the promotion rather than programming the till to recognize it, and I really have no answer for why the one-cent discount is displayed to the customer as a zero-cent discount.

Does the whole thing strike anybody else as being a bit sinister? I get that the 'discount' is more than likely just a bean-counter thing, so that head office can count up how many of us idiots are flooding the Tim's tills to take advantage of this 'deal'. But is this just their promotions department having a laugh at our expense, or is this a canny ploy to keep up the company's already inescapable marketing presence without their actually having to offer anything?

My burning question, basically, is this: do they think that we're stupid, or do they know that we're stupid? It could go either way, at this point!

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